The Wharton School of Business and Bryn Mawr College each announced this week they had received multimillion-dollar gifts to launch innovative academic programs.

The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania announced a $10 million gift from billionaire alumnus and Philadelphia 76ers co-owner Josh Harris, who graduated in 1986, and his wife, Marjorie Harris.

Bryn Mawr College announced it had received a $5 million gift from alumna Betsy Zubrow Cohen, who graduated in 1963.

Josh Harris is the cofounder of Apollo Global Management, a private equity giant that manages about $250 billion in assets.

The Harris gift will go to establish the Joshua J. Harris Alternative Investments Program, which is aimed at creating opportunities for Wharton students to learn about alternative investments. Alternative investments are nonconventional holdings — meaning assets other than stocks, bonds, and real estate. In particular, the money would help establish an effort to create expertise in blockchain, the online ledger technology that powers many of the leading cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin.

“As an alternative-investments trailblazer, Josh is a role model for our students and an incredible friend to the Wharton School,” said dean Geoffrey Garrett.

In October, Josh Harris’ partner at Apollo Global, fellow Wharton alumnus Marc Rowan, donated $50 million to the school.

Betsy Cohen (left) and Josh Harris donated large gifts to Bryn Mawr College and the Wharton School, respectively.
Betsy Cohen (left) and Josh Harris donated large gifts to Bryn Mawr College and the Wharton School, respectively.

At Bryn Mawr, Cohen’s gift will provide seed money to “embed data science throughout the curriculum,” said college president Kim Cassidy.

The matriarch of the Cohen financial and energy empire, Betsy Cohen cofounded Jefferson Bank before selling it to create one of the nation’s first successful online banks, the Wilmington-based Bancorp. Cohen, who was a math major before focusing on philosophy, said fluency in data and data analytics has become a necessary skill for any student of the humanities.

“Data analytics is not a subject as much as it is a platform for learning,” Cohen said. “It’s not something that has been traditionally offered by small liberal arts colleges. But my thinking was it should be because it’s become a universal language. It may not have been true 50 years ago, but it’s true today.

“We are hoping this will be a transformative gift for the college,” she said.

With a handle on data analytics, students of the most arcane subjects can gather facts quickly, Cohen said. “And that could reveal new insights."

“If one were doing a study of a Greek text -- say a philological examination of how a particular word was used -- having analytics as a tool might show you patterns that haven’t been previously revealed,” Cohen said.

Cohen, who retired from Bancorp in 2014, now operates on the equity side and knows the power of data science. Now the chairwoman of FinTech Acquisition Corp III, Cohen uses analytics extensively to buy, sell, and take financial technology companies public.